New Works


15-943 – Bugai Whyoulter


1 in stock

Bugai Whyoulter

76 x 152cm: acrylic on canvas
Year: 2015

Wantili (Warntili, Canning Stock Route Well 25)

Bugai always tells about Wantili (Warntili, Canning Stock Route Well 25) because she grew up around Wantili. Her family would travel between Wantili, Kaalpa, Juntu-juntu, Raarki, and Wuranu Wells along the Canning Stock Route. She paints around Wantili. She saw whitefellas there for the first time, Canning mob when they were travelling up and down the stock route with the bullock. She was a young girl walking around at Wantili. Big mob of people they been walking around there. Canning and his drovers were travelling, making the road. They were running away from those whitefellas, watching them from a long distance. She was a teenager when she was travelling around there with her four mothers and one daddy. They used to travel around in family groups, Bugai and Jakayu [Biljabu], and Jakayu’s nyupa (partner) Phillip Biljabu.” 

– Bugai Whyoulter, as translated by her grandson, Cyril Whyoulter


“I was just becoming a teenager, still travelling around with my mother and father. We were at Juntu-juntu, Wuranu, Raarki, Tiwa and Wantili. At Wantili we killed a cow, they were bringing cattle through from Kunawarritji … Wantili was a good place to make yakapiri (woven bark sandals).”

– Bugai Whyoulter as translated by Ngalangka Nola Taylor


Wantili, which forms the focus of much of Bugai’s work, is a large round jurnu (soak) and linyji (claypan) near Well 25 on the Canning Stock Route. The Wantili region is dominated by claypans surrounded by tuwa (sandhills), and Nyilangkurr, a prominent yapu (hill) is located close to the eastern edge of the claypan. Following rain the typically dry claypans are filled with water, with the overflow from nearby waterholes flowing to Wantili. At that time, Wantili becomes an important place for obtaining fresh water for drinking and bathing. Wantili is significant for the fact that at this site Kartujarra, Manyjilyjarra, Putijarra and Warnman people would all come together for ceremonies during the pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) era. Many jiwa (stones used by women for grinding seeds) from these times can still be found there today.

Wantili lies within Bugai’s ngurra (home Country, camp). As described in her account, Wantili was one of the sites she knew intimately and travelled extensively with her family and other family groups during the pujiman period. At this time, Martu would traverse very large distances annually, moving seasonally from water source to water source, and hunting and gathering bush tucker as they went. Knowledge of water sources was critical for survival, and today Martu Country is still defined in terms of the location and type of water. Each of the hundreds of claypans, rockholes, waterholes, soaks and springs found in the Martu desert homelands is known by name, location, quality and seasonal availability through real life experience and the recounting of Jukurrpa (Dreaming) narratives. 

Wantili is also especially significant to Bugai as it was here that she saw whitefellas for the first time; drovers with their cattle travelling along the Canning Stock Route. The establishment of the route by Alfred Canning and his team in 1910 resulted in first contact with Europeans for many Martu, including Bugai and her family, then living a pujiman life in the desert. Encounters occurred between Martu, Europeans, and other Martu working as cattle drovers as they travelled and down the Stock Route from water source to water source. Increasingly, Martu followed the route to newly established ration depots, mission and pastoral stations. They were drawn to the route in search of food, by a sense of curiosity, or by loneliness. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, most of the desert family groups had left the desert. Eventually, these factors combined with an extreme and prolonged drought in the 1960s to prompt the few remaining pujiman to move in from the desert. Bugai returned to the Wantili area as a young woman, when she herself drove cattle along the Stock Route.

Culturally, Wantili is an incredibly important site, ‘where the creation started.’ (Cyril Whyoulter). In this creation story, the world was initially dark, and people were like rocks, with no arms or legs. Following the sun’s first rising, life-forms become increasingly complex while particular features in the land are created. Beyond these details much of the Jukurrpa narrative relating to Wantili is ngurlu (sacred, taboo), and only for Martu, but the site is open, and anyone can go there. 

Wantili is also one of the many sites featured in the epic Minyipuru (Jakulyukulyu, Seven Sisters) Jukurrpa story. Minyipuru is a central Jukurrpa narrative for Martu, Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people that is associated with the seasonal Pleiades star constellation. Relayed in song, dance, stories and paintings, Minyipuru serves as a creation narrative, a source of information relating to the physical properties of the land, and an embodiment of Aboriginal cultural laws. The story follows the movement of a group of women travelling all the way across the desert, beginning at Roebourne on the coast of Western Australia, as they are pursued by Yurla, a lustful old man. As the women travelled, they stopped to rest at many sites to eat, dance, rest and sing, on the way leaving behind an assortment of articles that became formations in the land, such as groupings of rocks and trees, grinding stones and seeds. The sisters rested at Wantili before throwing seeds, then continued their journey far to the east and beyond Martu Country, stopping at various sites through central and South Australia.

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Martumili Artists acknowledges the Nyiyaparli and Martu people as the Traditional Owners of the land we live and work on. We also acknowledge the Traditional Owners throughout our country and our Elders; past, present and emerging.